As Clemson softball gears up for its fourth ever season in 2023, the Tigers look to make even more history with the program’s sights set on an NCAA Women’s College World Series berth this spring — a feat that would top off what head coach John Rittman describes as a “tremendous” 105-33 overall record and 48-16 ACC record in just three seasons of existence.
“It’s easy when you’re winning, obviously, but it hasn’t always been easy here,” Rittman said in a podcast interview with D1Softball last month. “Our record is tremendous, but we’ve had a lot of ups and downs and because we were such a young program and everybody got an extra year of eligibility with Covid, last year we had 29 players on our roster.
“If you talk to any coach in the country, try to keep 29 players happy and keep your culture intact, it’s not easy. So, we had some ups and downs, but we’ve overcome it and I think a lot of that is attributed to our culture, our work ethic and our family atmosphere that we have here.”
Despite the high caliber of success that has seemingly embodied Clemson’s program from the start, Rittman says that early success didn’t come without its fair share of struggles along the way.
From dealing with a shortened season due to the pandemic in the Tigers 2020 inaugural season and the eligibility ramifications that followed, to the growing pains that come with cultivating a young team, Clemson’s softball program is no stranger to adversity, but the transfer portal proved to be just what Rittman’s roster needed.
“Because we were such a young program starting from scratch, it was almost like that was perfect timing for us to go out and look at kids in the transfer portal that number one were high character kids, number two had a little bit of talent and number three could provide some leadership for our younger players,” he said. “Those things all kind of fell in place perfectly for us at the time we were gearing up to start playing our competitive season.”
The transfer portal proved to be hugely successful for Rittman and his inaugural roster that would later be headlined by five transfers in Ansley Gilstrap (USC Upstate), Cammy Pereira (Furman), Marissa Guimbarda (Furman), MK Bonamy (Notre Dame) and Bailey Taylor (Troy University), who each played an integral role in the foundation of success that Clemson softball has encountered thus far.
“With our staff, the facilities and now having a team, it was all about building our culture and I knew we had to have a strong foundation to start this program,” Rittman said. “I sold recruits on being pioneers, being a part of history, you’d always be remembered as the first team in Clemson softball history, and then sold them on the vision of how we could be successful and what is was going to take to do that, but primarily our concern was building a culture of kids with character, kids that had a passion for the game of softball, certainly we have the education that Clemson provides a student-athlete here, so we had a lot of things to sell. But it all goes back to really not focusing on wins and losses but focusing on our culture and building that foundation for success.”
Clemson opens up the 2023 season with a five-game stretch over the course of four days in Miami, Fla. on Feb. 9-12 at the FIU Tournament. The Tigers are set to face the FIU Panthers on Thursday, Feb. 9 at 5:30 p.m.